Monday, July 12, 2010

On the Road Again

Holy shit, just when I'd lost my faith in post-apocalyptic genre after the pile of wet garbage outside a Chinese restaurant that was The Book of Eli I get hit with a little movie called The Road.  And boy, was I blown away (you know, the good kind of blown like from a French whore, not the bad kind, you know, with, like, the wind).  From beginning to end The Road is simply an expertly crafted, thoughtful, gripping, emotionally poignant movie.  I mean this is what filmmaking is all about. 

The plot of The Road follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they battle for survival in a bleak, no-holds-barred, post-apocalyptic world.  They live in constant fear of other survivors because they are just as likely to rape, rob, beat and/or eat you as look at you.  Amidst all the scavenging and running from other survivors the father and his son struggle to find meaning in their shattered world as they each contemplate the pro's and con's of dying, try desperately to remain "the good guys", and keep on moving south, always south.

If I was being held hostage at gunpoint by a terrorist and he told me that I had to sum up the movie The Road in one word or less or else he'd put a bullet in my brain the hard way I would have to say: tension.  Hot damn, I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole movie.  Whenever the man and his son encountered any other survivors my heart rate would rise in anticipation of what horrors might befall our protagonists.  When they were alone, huddled like cavemen around a fire I was only slightly less tense because I knew that any peace they experienced was only temporary and when the morning came they would be back in the shit again.  Then there was the tension between the father and son as the boy was at an old enough age to understand the concept of suicide and the moral and practical consequences of leaving some dude naked in the midst of a blasted, dying landscape.

I'm sure all of you astute readers out there noticed how short and lacking in detail that summary was.  (Way to go, Einsteins.)  This is because The Road is definitely a character driven movie and not a plot driven movie.  Indeed there are no epic quests to bring hope and order to the masses, no antagonist bent on rebuilding a new world in his own image, and no half-assed love stories with surprisingly-well-nourished-despite-the-apocalypse hotties.  There was just a dude and his son struggling desperately to survive and dying slowly of malnourishment.  I mean if you want a "realistic" post-apocalyptic movie, The Road is the movie for you.  Society is not in any danger of being rebuilt here, led by some enigmatic leader who wandered out of the wasteland and earned the grudging respect of a group of survivors.  There's just two people with no real sense of purpose other than to keep on moving and no real hope other than to find something -anything- to eat.  Shoes are now a hot commodity because apparently despite their misleading slogans Adidas ("We ARE the Apocalypse") and Nike ("Even Bigger Than Jesus") have both stopped their manufacturing divisions in North America.  Most of the survivors in this movie are wearing the remains of shoes tied together with bits of old string and lined with plastic bags.  There are no animals left to hunt and the trees are slowly but surely dying.  If the gun-toting terrorist from my scenario gave me two words to describe this movie the second would definitely be: bleak.  And I mean bleaker-than-Mel Gibson's-future-as-the-chairman-of-the-Anti-Defamation- League bleak.

Everything element in The Road adds to that sense of bleakness.  There's the general emaciated state of the survivors.  There's the lack of any type of society beyond groups of five or six people who ban together to hunt other survivors for food.  It's pretty cool because these harsh times where the next dude you meet on the road might be looking at you and seeing a giant chicken leg like in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon breeds this weird sort of paranoia and everybody in the movie is always asking everybody else if they are following them.  The landscape is not only blasted, but is still slowly dying like the people that inhabit it.  And only at the end do you realize that nobody in the movie had a name.  Just nameless wanderers trying to survive just a little longer.  Even the way the movie is lit, with the screen at times even completely blanketed in darkness, makes you feel as shitty as the characters on the screen.  Shitty in a good way.  All this is of course brilliantly contrasted with that vague image of the "fire" that the man and boy are carrying.  Now the true brilliance here is that Viggo's character never specifies what the fire is or what it's supposed to symbolize, just that the good guys have it.  And what "it" is is up to the audience, but there's no preaching and nothing being forced on you so it leaves room for interpretation. 

Damn these new WalMarts are getting big...

Viggo Mortensen is just phenomenal here as the nameless father.  The intensity that emanates from this man is enough to level entire city blocks that are lucky enough to be nearby.  Damn this man can act.  Every role he has he just knocks out of the park.  Where his genius really shows is in the flashback scenes with his wife (Charlize Theron) and you can totally see the difference in the calibre of acting.  The kid Kodi Smit-McPhee did a bang up job and see great things in his future.  The scenes where he's asking about suicide really pulled on the heartstrings.  Robert Duvall made a great appearance and it took me a few minutes to recognize him under all the makeup and layers of filth.  Also a nice surprise was Guy Pearce and Molly Parker who showed up at the end.  Guy Pearce is one of my favourite actors so it's a treat to see him in anything these days.

This is definitely not a movie for the faint of heart.  The Road is a gritty, raw, tense, heartbreaking, visceral beast of a film that keeps the audience involved from start to finish.  Every tragedy and triumph, every horror and victory this father and son mus endure, the viewer is pulled along with them experiencing each and every one as if they were his own.  The dark feel of this film at times kept me on the edge of my seat.  I mean, imagine breaking into a house to find food and then finding only a cellar full of people kept like cattle.  That is some messed up shit.  Imagine being on the brink of trying to decide whether a situation is past the point of no return and you would rather shoot a family member in the head to spare them from almost certain horror or whether there is still a chance to escape.  That is some messed up shit.  Even when the father and son find a cache of food, you feel that joy, but you're also waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And it's not just these scenarios, it's how they are presented to us on screen, from a distinctly human perspective.  Anybody with a pacemaker should definitely steer clear.

It's pretty clear from the previous paragraphs that I loved this movie so I'll just give you my final diagnosis: watch this shit.  This is an excellent counterpoint to that shit stain known as The Book of Eli and if you put them side by side, I mean there's really no comparison.  My rating for The Road is 9/10 = One Cannibalistic Post-Apocalyptic Survivor's Head With a Bullet Lodged in the Frontal Cortex


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